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decade in golf

World Handicap System explained: How is par worked out?

Ever wondered why a par-4 is a par-4? The Rules of Handicapping make some interesting recommendations, as Steve Carroll explains
 

Sometimes I find myself standing on a particularly tough par-4 that’s, usually, more than 450 yards and wondering – or more likely pleading – “Why couldn’t this be a par-5?”

It gets in my head and a double, or worse, usually follows. It’s up to golf clubs, courses, and designers to ultimately set par but, wandering through the Rules of Handicapping, I noticed there was an Appendix that’s all about “establishing par”.

Par matters greatly when it comes to handicap. It features as a factor in establishing net par, for a start, for holes not played and – more usually for most of us – it establishes the net double bogey. This is the maximum score that goes down for handicap if you’ve had a disaster on any given hole.

So what exactly is par – in handicapping terms – and what do the governing bodies reckon should go into establishing a particular number? Let’s dive in…

World Handicap System explained: What is par and how is it worked out?

You may be disappointed when you can’t put a par down on the scorecard but, unless you’re a pretty good player, the number is relatively meaningless to the average player.

Par “reflects the score a scratch player is expected to score on a given hole”. There are many things that go into allocating that number including: how difficult the hole is, how long it is, whether there are any forced lay-ups, if the elevation changes, and even how the prevailing wind affects play.

So how long is it recommended a hole is for each par? The numbers might surprise you…

Par-3: Up to 260 yards (240 metres) for men; Up to 220 yards (200 metres) for women

Par-4: From 240 to 490 yards (220 to 450 metres) for men; From 200 to 420 yards (180 to 300 metres) for women

Par-5: From 450 yards to 710 yards (410 to 650 metres) for men; From 370 to 600 yards (340 to 550 metres) for women

Par-6: 670 yards and up (610 metres onwards) for men; 570 yards and up (520 metres and onwards) for women

First up, good luck if you’re tackling a par-5 approaching 700 yards! Those numbers might, though, give you an inkling of the scope a club has when it comes to changing a hole par or establishing a new hole.

If you’re a keen scorecard watcher, you might already have worked out what happens when the length of a hole falls between two ranges. The appendix gives the example of 470-yard hole for men or 400 yards for women. In that case, the par could be either four or five depending on how hard that particular hole is.

It also depends on how that hole was designed to be taken on. The appendix gives the example of a hole that from all sets of tees lies within a recommended par 4 for men, but the forward tees are at 250 yards. It says it can still be a par-4 “due to the way the hole is designed to be played”.

Need more information on the World Handicap System?

Visit our dedicated WHS page where you will find everything you need to know and details of how to contact us if you have any more questions.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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